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OCR for page 31
Characterizing Exposure ... Final Report PROJECT 3: EVALUATION AND STANDARDIZATION OF MILITARY RECORDS FOR USE IN EPIDEMIOLOGIC STUDIES Military records contain information useful to epidemiologic studies that involve exposure assessment. However, few researchers are familiar with the disparate record forms produced by the various branches of the military over the course of the war or have experience working with the bureaucracy that maintains them. The aim of Project 3 was to evaluate military personnel records to determine whether data relevant to examining potential exposure to herbicides could be found and extracted. The data obtained *om the records were to be compared against self- reports of military service and experience in order to evaluate the consistency between these two sources of information. A guide to using military records in epidemiologic research would also be produced. As noted in the discussion of Project 1 tasks, the investigators encountered a series of roadblocks to accessing the nonprivate sections of the military personnel record that engendered an extended delay in obtaining military records from NPRC. Eventually, the records were retrieved by NPRC staff working at the instruction of VA. That change in the work plan delayed progress because all the record transmissions were manual and involved the re-entry of data, reproofreading, and then matching the entries to an electronic database system. About 9/0 of the records retrieved had missing fields or internally-inconsistent data. In addition, some records were identified in which tour of duty dates were entered but the dates associated with each unit in which the individual served were not delineated. The researchers were thus prevented from carrying out quality-control checks to ensure that they had units for a veteran's full tour and that there were no conflicts in reporting. Concerns with the abstracted data led the researchers to conclude that a comparison of it with self-reports would be problematic and was unlikely to generate useful information. These 31

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Characterizing Exposure ... Final Report concerns also foreclosed reliable identification of individual veterans who might be interviewed or tested for specific biomarkers (Project 4~. The project therefore did not identify or validate a standardized means of extracting data from military personnel records for use in epidemiologic studies. The contractor did note that if subjects are available to complete and sign an SFIS0 (Request for Military Records), researchers could obtain copies of their personnel records. This would allow them to control how data were abstracted. The exercise was useful, however, because it brought to light this possible impediment to veteran studies. It also yielded valuable practical experience that has been encapsulated in the contractor's report Characterizing Exposure to Agent Orange and Other Herbicides Used in Vietnam. An Epidemiologist's Guide to Useful Military Records (version 1.1, June 26, 2003), which appears as an appendix to its final report. In brief, the Guide divides military records that document details of wartime service into two primary categories: T. records that provide data on the location, mission, conditions and events of military units to which the soldiers had been assigned; and 2. records that provide information on the individual soldier's military assignments and experiences, and some personal pre-enlistment characteristics. The first category of records includes Daily Journals, Situation Reports, "Operational Reports-Lessons [Learned", Combat Operations After Action Reports, Command Reports, Intelligence Summaries, and Morning Reports.'8 These records may be found in the National Archives. They are accessible by the general public, although not always in an easily available or usable form. The second category of recordsmilitary personnel recordsare housed in the National Personnel Records Center, a separate part of the National Archives. Personnel records is These are the standard Army nomenclature for the records; other services used different names to label accounts of locations and actions. 32